Tobin Zolkowski

Credentials: Language: American Sign Language

Position title: Graduate Student in Information Sciences

Tobin Zolkowski

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison? 

I am now getting a master’s degree in information science. My linguistic and academic pursuits are inextricably linked. I have difficulty comprehending some English idioms and phrases. ASL is a very context-sensitive language. As a result, I often fail tests. However, my teachers usually help and encourage me by substituting essays for multiple-choice exams. Also, note-taking services and extra time are beneficial.

If you are a student, are you enrolled in language classes? Why or why not?

I took French classes as an undergraduate student since my mother attended high school in Québec.

How do you feel your language(s) contribute(s) or add value to your work or studies? 

My language, I believe, contributes significantly to my own identity. It separates me from the majority of the “normal” world. As a result, hardly one understands me.

How do you feel your language(s) contribute(s) or add value to your work or studies? 

I am not certain that my language skills contribute anything to my academics. My research focuses mostly on data. Possibly I like to know outcomes immediately, perhaps as a product of culture.

To what extent do you feel others on campus value your languages in the context of your work/studies at the University? 

Sign language is widely used around the globe, particularly on college campuses. However, most individuals do not devote a significant amount of effort to studying Sign language.

Have you experienced/observed linguistic prejudice or discrimination? If so, could you describe what happened? 

I have never encountered any type of language bias or discrimination, owing to the fact that the individuals I met were really receptive and accommodating. However, on a few instances, I encounter some type of stupidity. For instance, some believe Sign language is global or that it is not a language at all.

How does linguistic diversity add to the richness of the various communities you navigate? 

If language variety enriches the numerous groups through which I traverse, it will be much simpler for me to speak with people and feel less alone. I believe there are very few American Sign Language users on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. Occasionally, summer and fall sessions of Sign language courses are offered. Madison’s Deaf community is very, very small. My age group has a relatively small number of Deaf people.

In what ways do you believe the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community? 

I feel that the university community can more fully appreciate the benefits of language variety. For instance, an annual language awareness campaign is an excellent way to enhance linguistic awareness and give additional language classes.

Also, people I meet are often happy to help. I believe the best way to help the American Sign Language community is for the University of Wisconsin–Madison to employ more Deaf faculty and staff. It would make Deaf people out of Madison want to go to college and the city.

Is there anything else you would like to add or questions you have? 

While some of you may believe Sign language is simple to pick up, this is not always the case.